Thursday, December 2, 2021

Area protesters bring mural to capital anti-war rally

January 21, 2003
Olivet resident Addie Ulrey, 17, holds a flyer of the life-size anti-war mural built by Greater Lansing Youth for Peace and Justice Sunday in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The group left the mural at the American Friends Service Committee Monday in Washington, D.C. —

Washington - Some stared in silence for 15 minutes or more while others talked softly with friends and family members about its meaning. Some stood in front of it, smiling widely as they were photographed with it.

And 17-year-old Addie Ulrey couldn't have been more proud.

"They would just stop talking and shouting and waving their signs for a minute and stand there and look at it," she said. "It was nice to be able to watch them take pictures and try to figure out what they were thinking."

Ulrey was among 18 Lansing-area youths who traveled to the nation's Capitol during the weekend to display their papier-m?ché mural during Saturday's anti-war rally and march.

The 8 feet by 12 feet display, "Facing Iraqis: Collateral Damage?" featured eight Iraqi figures standing on a background of newspaper clippings that represent the brewing tensions in the troubled nation. Members of Greater Lansing Youth for Peace and Justice, a group of world peace advocates in grades sixth to 12th, created the mural.

The project was meant to show people the faces of Iraqi men, women and children who would be effected by American military strikes, said Ulrey, who designed the display.

"That was the thing from the beginning that struck me the most about the situation - we weren't considering the people who we would kill," said Ulrey, clad in a tie-dyed shirt and sporting a purple and white checkered bandana. "There's no guarantee that these people wouldn't suffer and wouldn't die. That's what seemed most important to me."

The theme also captivated hundreds of protesters, who stood in groups near the mural, which was placed on the Mall between the Capitol and Washington Monument.

Three hours of speakers during the rally were followed by a march to the Washington Navy Yard. Representing states from around the country, protesters braved below-freezing temperatures and held their signs high, intent on showing cold weather wouldn't dampen their anti-war efforts.

Cape Cod, Mass., resident Lynn Hiller walked slowly over the snow-covered ground to admire "Facing Iraqis" as she waited for the rally's set of speakers to begin.

"It's very sobering," she said. "I visualize what the Iraqi people look like and I've seen pictures in the newspaper. It's gut-wrenching to think of those people who could likely be victims of our bombs."

The rally and march, held on a weekend commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the start of the Gulf War in 1991, prompted many to use King's values of nonviolence and unity as a way to promote peace.

Hiller said the abundance of children and students at the rally helped bring that message across in an even stronger way.

"People come by the realization that war is not the way to go by reading about it or hearing about it," she said, "or like this - by seeing something so powerful."

A nation united

The middle- and high-schoolers who presented their mural on Saturday weren't the only Lansing protesters to make the 12-hour trek from East Lansing.

Psychology sophomore Katie Morrissett joined dozens of area activists who traveled to Washington individually or through the Peace Education Center and the Greater Lansing Network Against War in Iraq.

Sitting in the basement of the All Souls Church, Unitarian a few hours after returning from Saturday's rally and march, Morrissett, her face still red from the cold, said the day was a success.

"I thought it was phenomenal," she said. "It was really inspiring to see how far a lot of people came to get their voice heard. There were people who drove 24 hours, people from Colorado, California."

The church hosted dozens of activists from Michigan and Minnesota who needed a place to eat and sleep following Saturday's events.

And as others wandered in and out of the room telling stories of the day, Morrissett and other Lansing residents were overjoyed to hear about a rumor of a total of 750 Lansing residents coming to Washington.

She said she'd heard anywhere from 30,000 to 500,000 activists had joined the march, but hoped the higher estimation of the crowd was correct.

"The whole time we kept trying to guess," she said. "Half a million, half a million; that's all we wanted. It was really exciting."

Speakers' topics at the rally were mixed, ranging from how Iraqi citizens would be effected by a war, President Bush's determination to take control of oil in the country and how millions of U.S. dollars should be spent on improving poverty and schools in the United States instead of beefing up military campaigns.

Speakers at the event included the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and actress Jessica Lange. Musicians Chumbawamba and Patti Smith also spoke and performed during the rally.

Lansing resident Chris Dorman said the rally and march, which came months after another October protest in Washington, was an important step for anti-war activists.

"I think today was just the beginning," he said. "It's really going to fuel the individual movements in individual communities. The inspiration you get from such a big event can transfer to small events and a lot of ideas can come out of it."

Making a statement

For hours, children from the Lansing group stood outside, handing out pamphlets about their mural to interested visitors.

Some arrived at 8 a.m. to start giving away the leaflets, intent on not letting the cold hinder their work.

"People were really nice about it and curious about where it came from," said 15-year-old Anna Putnam, a sophomore at East Lansing High School. "Most people accepted the fliers we handed out and were really appreciative of all the work we've done - and that feels good."

Bundled up with a few breaks to sit on the ground and munch on bagels and other snacks, group members had a chance to listen to the speakers whose voices boomed from the many huge, black amplifiers scattered throughout the Mall.

Reflecting on the day from the warmth of the church that evening, Putnam said the opportunity to talk with activists from around the country made her realize the importance of the group's involvement in the rally and march.

"It was so cool to be there with so many people that had the same ideas as you and want the same goals for the world," she said. "It's just an amazing feeling to be in the same place."

Informing activists of the impact of war on the Iraqi people and other citizens of Middle Eastern countries was a focus for other protesters as well.

Essex Junction, Vt., residents Richard St. Gelais and his daughter Ashley were recruited by Vermont-based Bread & Puppet Theatre to dress up in Israeli clothing with Burlington, Vt., resident Rebecca White.

Dressed in flowing black dresses with only their eyes visible, White said she and Ashley St. Gelais would be depicting Israeli women carrying their dead children.

White said the theater has been involved with activist rallies and puppet shows since the early '70s and offers shows and free bread every Sunday.

"It's all about feeding the people and speaking the truth," she said.

Marching forward

As speakers concluded their remarks and prepared the crowd for a march that would close Saturday's rally, members of the Lansing group started to move forward.

They walked ahead, converging into a mass of thousands and leaving a deserted field of grass behind, with only the Washington Monument visible in the distance.

Their eyes were wide and chants loud as they packed in shoulder to shoulder with other demonstrators, some holding signs reading "Drop Bush, not bombs" and "No blood for oil."

As the group made their way up a hill, past lines of police officers and activists wearing huge papier-m?ché heads of Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, they looked behind them to see just how big the crowd really was.

Then they walked forward again, leading chants of, "What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!"

Later that evening, as the students' relaxed in the church and played cards, Chris Root, one of the group's advisers, said although the children possess different levels of awareness and history behind a potential war on Iraq, it didn't make the trip to Washington any less important to them.

"I think the kids were amazed at how many people were here and the powerful feeling of so many people coming together for one purpose and that they were part of that," she said. "Given their ages, almost none of them had ever taken part in a national demonstration before."

Root said the process of the mural, from its construction and the planning its arrival in Washington, to explaining its meaning to activists, was a beneficial aspect of the rally for the kids.

"Having the mural away from the speakers at the rally and away from the crowd meant that the kids could watch people interact with the mural and see how reflective people were and how quiet people were looking at what they had made," she said. "It might even have an additional meaning to them because of seeing the strength of other people's reaction to it."

The group's mural and contribution to the anti-war movement is just the beginning, Ulrey said, adding she hopes to launch teach-ins at Lansing-area high schools to try to get more young people involved.

"In my high school, I know the majority of the kids are not politically aware at all and don't know what's going on," she said. "They're not necessarily disagreeing with what I say when I start to talk to them, they're just completely oblivious."

"They're interested, and I think we can get a lot more young people involved, which would be very good."

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